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The Ethics of the Private – How COVID-19 Has Reshaped our Private Sphere

The crisis caused by COVID-19 “has given us a chance to develop new ways of living” – said Pope Francis in a speech on September 1st 2020. [1] Although he primarily spoke about worldwide problems, affecting our created home in a global way, such as global warming and the indebtedness of the global south, this “chance to develop new ways of living” is open to societies, communities and individuals too. Besides that, it is worth focusing not only on global risks, but also to look at rather everyday questions brought up by the pandemic.

The wearing of masks, curfew, regular disinfection and the limitations of public and private assemblies – just to mention some unusual regulations we had to adjust to. Moreover, the pressure to decide about matters such as taking or not taking the vaccine, to visit or not to visit family members, to organize or cancel travels abroad, also needed adaptation. These measures changed the way we look at ourselves, society and the frameworks and limits of human interaction.

It also transformed our concept of the family. The pandemic has refuted the axiomatical thesis about the functional loss of families in modern societies: with the closing of schools, parents and children found themselves bound to their home. Parents had filled the role of the math, literature or science teacher for the mornings, and turned into athletics coaches or guitar tutors for the afternoon.  The living room was often transformed into an office, the playroom into school, the backyard into a running track. All these signify enormous changes in the functions of the family and in the relationship between the private and the public spheres. It overwrites tasks, timing and also family roles. This situation seems as if higher levels of society would hand back certain functions to the family in the times of crisis, namely those they cannot handle publicly. This new phenomenon might be described as refamilization, or as inevitable/upside-down subsidiarity.

Now it seems that with summer approaching the old order might be restored throughout Europe. The pandemic has certainly its lingering effects, such as the lack of paid time off during the summer, since many parents have already used their paid leave during the third wave. Still, on the long term we have to live with the experience and the possibility that the public might return certain functions to the private sphere, including education and religion. At this point we need to ask ourselves whether we are ready to take this as “a chance to develop new ways of living”: to develop new strategies to harmonize the functions of the private and the public, to resolve the conflict between work and family life, to arrange duties in a more just way and to create the frameworks for a meaningful life. [2] The paths are open, but are we ready to walk them?

[1] O’Connell, Gerard: Pope Francis: The pandemic has ‘given us a chance to develop new ways of living.’, in: America. The Jesuit Review, September 1st, 2020, online:

[2] Geambasu Réka, Gergely Orsolya, Nagy Beáta, Somogyi Nikolett: Qualitative Research On Hungarian Mothers’ Social Situation And Mental Health During The Time Of The Covid-19 Pandemic, in: Corvinus Journal Of Sociology And Social Policy (2020/2), 151-155.